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Thomas Reynolds: Vulnerable Communion


Thomas E. Reynolds, Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2008), 256 pages, ISBN 9781587431777.

Difference, normalcy, embodiment, community, and redemption are all topics that relate to disability. Disability studies have greatly increased with the onset of late modernity, and this is a blessing to all those who seek to serve those touched by disability. I know this first hand, a traumatic brain injury has caused me to experience mental disabilities.

Thomas E. Reynolds (PhD, Vanderbilt University, professor of theology at Emmanuel College) knows disabilities too, for he has a son with multiple disabilities including Tourette’s syndrome, Asperger’s syndrome, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Thus, from both a theological and experiential perspective, Reynolds has the requisite base of knowledge to write about a theology of disability. In fact, in his argumentation, Reynolds brings together sociological, philosophical, and theological resources in order to challenge non-disabled individuals.

Reynolds begins the book with a story about his son and a non-welcoming church. Chris, due to his disabilities, often made impromptu screams laden with profanity while at church, as well exhibiting aggressive behaviors toward other children his age. Apparently, the outbursts were too much for other parents to take, so they chastened the Reynolds, ultimately leading the Reynolds family to leave the church (it is unfortunate how common this experience is). In part due to this experience at his former church, Reynolds seeks to reflect theologically on how Christians may think and act differently toward people with disabilities. After all, the vulnerability that is expressed through disability is the starting point for discovering what humanity shares in their differences. However, this book is not all about Reynolds’ personal narrative, as it mainly analytical and theological in nature. Reynolds does not believe that people with disabilities are merely moral lessons—though they are certainly those—or means of inspiration for ‘normal’ people. Making his point poignantly, Reynolds notes that Jesus’ body remained scarred after the resurrection; the glorified body was still marred. Perhaps, then, disability is not a thing to get rid of, but a thing to cherish.

Thomas E. Reynolds is Associate Professor of Theology at Emmanuel College of Victoria University in the University of Toronto.

Reynolds notes that living with a child with disabilities has opened him to a surplus of grace that can only be called divine. Reynolds argues that the Christian story is one of strength coming from weakness, of wholeness emerging from brokenness, and of power in vulnerability. He argues that disability is the norm, the image of God means not rationality but relationality, redemption is a result of God’s own vulnerability, and the proper Christian response to otherness is hospitality. The key insight (of many) within the title is that the basic question of human existence is whether we can find a home with others who recognize us, value us as we are, and empower us to truly become ourselves. Reynolds understands disability not as a human deficiency or something to be pitied, but is a way to explore vulnerability with others and God instead. As such, then, disability should be privileged—perhaps by even a preferential option. Having a disability is not equivalent to being ill or needing a cure, but is a blessing instead. In the metaphorical reversal of Christianity, to be disabled is to be vulnerable, and to be vulnerable is to be whole. God embraces vulnerability.

Reviewed by Bradford McCall


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Category: Ministry, Summer 2011

About the Author: Bradford L. McCall, B.S. in Biology (Georgia Southwestern St. University, 2000), M.Div. (Asbury Theological Seminary, 2005), grew up on a cotton farm in south Georgia. A graduate student at Holy Apostles College and Seminary, Bradford has particular interest in teleology, causation and early modern philosophy.

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